Saunders and Clements and Wolff, Oh My!

calvin sign

Ugh! The wool coat was a big mistake. Sure, it was practically snow-like conditions the day I arrived but I knew, come Sunday, it was going to be sunny and 70.   But there I was, trying to act graceful as I gingerly stepped over the people in seats 34 D and E, dragging that blue coat along with assorted SWAG from the Festival.  I told Ally I was going to spend Sunday reviewing and reflecting on my time at conference and my private window seat on the airplane was the prime spot to do it.  I  stuffed a backpack at my feet and began to review my notes from the lectures.  I could tell the lady next to me was interested in my materials. So, I amped up my game. I looked intently at my notes, making impressive circles around key words, and double-highlighting quotes from famous authors.  I slowly pulled out my Festival schedule, which included oodles of write ups about the seminars and plenty of author bios.  She was duly impressed. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her.

“Are you going to a conference?” she asked, in a slow drawl.

“I just came from one. It was the Festival of Faith and Writing.”

“Oh! Are you a writer?” She seemed especially impressed with the chance to be sitting next to a writer.

“Oh no.  I’m  a reader,” I said, with extra emphasis,  though she seemed a bit deflated.

“Well, it seems like an awful long way to go just to read.”

Well said, my friend. But, there was more to it than simply finding new books to read. Ask anyone who’s become a Festival Freak–it’s a mystifying mash-up of entertainment, pop culture, the next hot new thing and a few elbow patches thrown in as a stamp of approval. I went for the sheer pleasure of the written word; to be immersed in a sweet bubble of language where sentence structure, rich descriptions and clever word play was treasured and prized.

ffwI met up with my friend Ally and together we began our Festival experience thumbing through the thick schedule, trying to determine which were our “not to miss” seminars.  We determined it was going to be a packed 3 days: 8:30am and going full-on until 9pm.  I got a decent piece of advice from a seasoned festival-goer, “Don’t try to do it all. Just go where you feel like going.”  And with that, I had permission to go to book signings, sit in the sunshine and read a little poetry, peruse the tables heavy-laden with books and to even walk out of a lecture that just seemed like a waste of time. I did manage to attend 19 talks, which seems like an excessive amount of content to process during a 5 hour flight.  Thankfully, each evening after the keynote speaker, Ally and I would go out for a drink and share our lecture notes.  This was the highlight of my time at Festival.  I take a lot of notes, but it’s only in conversation that I start to discover ways these new ideas can take shape in community.  We spent a good deal of time talking about faith formation and how it happens through deliberate practice…thankful that writers shared their experiences with faith and provided glimpses of how it might work in our lives.

It’s no secret that some of my favorite people were presenting at Festival this year. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor in Colorado who’s ability to preach with vulnerability makes her so compelling to me; Sarah Bessey, a bold Jesus feminist who blogs about growing up in the church, leaving the church and coming back again and loving it even more; @James KA Smith, philosopher extraordinaire, who helped me see the ways liturgy forms me into a responsible citizen of the kingdom of God; George Saunders, as funny in person as he is in the pages of The New Yorker. Witty, but kind and compassionate, a true delight; and Shauna Niequist, whose books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines helped me understand that female friendship  can be deep and spiritual and life-giving.

I came home with plenty of book booty. I scattered the books on my dining room table, little trophies of future accomplishment, as happy as a kid at the end of a great night of trick-or-treating.  “Which one will I eat first?”  The Mako book, or maybe the one about lectio divina, or perhaps the one about millenials. It’s hard to choose the first but once the spine is cracked, off we go on a new adventure.  Bags packed, moleskin and pen at the ready.

I’m a reader.

[If you want to read a real writer’s review of the Festival of Faith and Writing, check out Ally’s blog here:]




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